N° 65 | March 2012

Age Specific Dietary Trends in France: A Comparison

Download To print

In Europe, regional and national dietary habits have been changing over the past forty years, becoming less distinct and moving towards a more homogenized, ‘Western diet’. This is prevalent in France, a country situated directly between two traditionally contrasting diets; that of Mediterranean Countries (characterised by the consumption of pulses, fruits, vegetables, cereals and fish) and Northern Countries (characterised by the consumption of meats, milk and dairy products).

In order to examine dietary trends and nutrition intake in France, a study compared the findings of the two Individual and National Food Consumption Surveys (INCA); the first conducted in 1997-98 (INCA1) and the second in 2006-07 (INCA2). The INCA surveys required respondents to fill in a food record, with everything they ate or drank during seven consecutive days. Researchers then evaluated food and nutrient intake based on 38 different food groups, looking at average consumption rate and energy intake by age group, sex, gender, region and socio-economic status. For the first time in France, researchers had access to two consecutive food consumption surveys with a similar methodology, enabling them to monitor how national eating habits and nutrient intake changed over the course of eight years.

An increase in the consumption of fruit and vegetables

By comparing the findings of the two surveys, several dietary trends were highlighted. Some of the most prominent trends across all age groups were the overall decrease in the consumption of dairy products, meat, bread, potatoes, baked goods and sugar/confectionary. Conversely, the study noted an increase in the consumption of fruit and vegetables, rice, ice cream and chocolate. Between the two surveys, fresh fruit consumption remained stable in younger people but greatly increased in middle-aged adults (+48.4% in women and +37.8% in men) and older women (+23.4%). In comparison, vegetable consumption remained the same in middle aged adults and in older men, but increased in older women (+15%) and decreased in young men (-13.8%).

Mean energy intake remained unchanged

While several changes in dietary habits were noted between the two studies, the mean energy intake remained unchanged, although macronutrient contributions to energy did change. For example, energy from proteins was found to decrease in women and middle aged men. Among men, the elderly demonstrated a decrease in energy from carbohydrate and an increase in energy from lipids, while the opposite proved true for the youngest. Vitamin C and folate intake increased across all age groups, and sodium decreased in all diets observed, with the exception of young women.

Food choices and age : Western diet for young people

Both INCA1 and INCA2 examined the affect age has on food choices, with these differences remaining constant over the eight years. For example, in both studies the elderly followed a more traditional, French diet, consisting of bread, fish, vegetables and fruits, sugar/confectionary, soups and cheese. In an expected trend, Young people were more likely to have adopted a Western diet, based on ‘snacking and convenience’. Characteristics of this diet include pasta, rice, pastries, milk, chocolate, pizzas, meat (men), and ice cream (women only). This distribution by age was demonstrated by both surveys.

Conclusion

The changes in dietary trends over the course of eight years were consistent with France’s First National Nutrition and Health Program, introduced in 2001. For example, the consumption of bread, meat, milk and sugar decreased, while that of fruit and rice increased, with vegetable and cheese intake remaining stable. While the increased emphasis on healthy eating programs could explain the changes outlined in dietary trends, costs constraints could also be a contributing factor. The French National Institute of Statistics and of Economic Studies (INSEE) data shows that while the price of food increased by 17% overall between 1998-2006, bread and red meat showed the highest cost increases, with other food items remaining relatively stable. Overall, the study outlined several changes that have occurred in the French diet since 1998-99, following a similar trend to that of countries in Northern Europe. While these changes are interesting, it’s important to note that trends in food habits had only a slight effect on nutritional intake.

Dubuisson et al. Trends in food and nutritional intakes of French adults from 1999 to 2007: results from the INCA surveys. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(7):1035-48

Return See next article